If you’ve approached Bains Stores recently, you’d be forgiven for hesitating on doing so. A prominent window advert for a discontinued chocolate bar suggests the shop may have closed in 1994. The security shutters are stuck a quarter-open, adding to the general air of dilapidation. A push or kick of the door triggers something which is more grating car alarm than charming shop bell.

To Arjan Banga, returning to the Black Country after the unexpected death of his father, his family’s corner shop represents everything he has tried to leave behind – a lethargic pace of life, insular rituals and ways of thinking. But when his mother insists on keeping the shop open, he finds himself being dragged back, forced into big decisions about his imminent marriage back in London and uncovering the history of his broken family – the elopement and mixed-race marriage of his aunt Surinder, the betrayals and loyalties, loves and regrets that have played out in the shop over more than fifty years.

Taking inspiration from Arnold Bennett’s classic novel The Old Wives’ Tale, Marriage Material tells the story of three generations of a family through the prism of a Wolverhampton corner shop – itself a microcosm of the South Asian experience in the country: a symbol of independence and integration, but also of darker realities.

This is an epic tale of family, love, and politics, spanning the second half of the twentieth century, and the start of the twenty-first. Told with humour, tenderness and insight, it manages to be both a unique and urgent survey of modern Britain by one of Britain’s most promising young writers, and an ingenious reimagining of a classic work of fiction.

 


“This story of race and caste in the Midlands is a satirical masterpiece… Arjan, the present-day narrator who opens the book with a razor-sharp disquisition on the trials of being an Asian newsagent… Sanghera is such an engaging and versatile writer that the pages fly by in a flurry of pathos, politics and paratha with extra butter. Not many readers will recognise this satirical mini-masterpiece as a reworking of the 1908 Arnold Bennett novel The Old Wives’ Tale, but everyone will feel richer for its uncompromising take on race relations in the Black Country.”
The Sunday Telegraph


 “Funny and insightful… a thoughtful examination of the complexities of modern Britain… an engrossing, entertaining and rewarding read.”
The Daily Mail


“Sathnam Sanghera’s acclaimed memoir, The Boy with the Topknot, was subtitled “Love, Secrets and Lies in Wolverhampton”. His debut novel mines similarly rich veins: lies layered with the sediment of intergenerational secrets, missed opportunities, unfulfilled ambitions and finally the love, flinty and buried deep, but revealed gradually through Sanghera’s subtle and often very funny prose… delicately drawn…  deft sense of irony and self-awareness… The family’s unfolding history is beautifully counterpointed by real-life events in the local political landscape… Sanghera’s tender and funny book is a cracking and pacy read, it’s the sisters’ resilience and big hearts that stay with you for some time afterwards.”
Meera Syal in The Observer


Smart, funny and melancholy, Marriage Material goes straight to the heart of family life.
Marie Claire


“From Asian Trader to Bunty to Country Homes & Interiors, Marriage Material will take virtually no pages for you to be hooked.”
Harper’s Bazaar


“Humour, cultural relevance… brilliance.”
Stylist


Marriage Material airs important issues with humour… a gem of a multi-generational novel… a funny and touching read… brilliant chapter structure… a superbly updated version of Arnold Bennett’s The Old Wives’ Tale…. handled throughout with the lightest of touches, so that on reaching the end, you want to begin again to pick up the subtle nuances.”
Psychologies 


“Sanghera brilliantly describes the sisters’ relationship… moving… ambitious… a hugely enjoyable read, packed with plot twists and laugh out loud set pieces but it is also tender and insightful.”
The Sunday Express


“Making Arjan the fulcrum upon which two cultures pivot is a stroke of genius… an engaging comic novel which shows that however much Britain seems to change, some things, such as families, remain the same… Maybe history doesn’t have all the best stories, after all. Maybe some of them are set in old-fashioned corner shops in Wolverhampton.”
The Independent on Sunday


Marriage Material is a comic feast, full of delectable matter. It does what only the best comic fiction can do: it robes important social subjects in laughter. Then, too, by the end, I felt I knew Sathnam’s characters intimately and felt so warmly about them, I didn’t want them to go: no mean feat, given that I’ve never been into a Wolverhampton corner shop, either in Enoch Powell’s scurrilous heyday or more recently. This is a splendid debut.
Lisa Appignanesi, Paris Requiem


“The truth is complex. Sathnam Sanghera has given the [South Asian immigrant] narrative a whole new dimension with his sophisticated analysis of immigrant life in England in his two books… astute…  redolent with counter-cultural angst. .. Read on, for sheer pleasure.”
Bhupesh Bhandari, Business Standard


“From illness to doomed marriages and racist attacks, it’s all there in this novel, but grief doesn’t overwhelm it. Sanghera as a narrator never loses his dry wit, which makes Marriage Material engaging even it its less gripping sections…. He creates two terrific, strong women characters, both of whom you love, empathise with and admire as the novel progresses. Sanghera has a gift for crafting distinctive voices by giving each character their own, recognisable lingo…  His characters feel endearingly real… Affectionate but not indulgent towards his hometown and its characters, the author readily celebrates the South Asian community’s ability to rally around but doesn’t cast a blind eye to its failure to weed out toxic practices like misogyny and casteism… such a credible story.”
Deepanjana Pal, Firstpost.com


“Wonderfully engaging, full of heart and wit… rich and subtle.  Characters that stay with you and jokes make you laugh in the night.
Susie Boyt, author of The Small Hours

“SO good. Made me fucking hoot and howl.”

Caitlin Moran


“I have always loved Arnold Bennett’s The Old Wives’ Tale. I now have an equal fondness for Marriage Material, which is a reworking of the Black Country classic translated to a Punjabi corner shop in Wolverhampton. Every bit as rich and sad and comic as the original.”
Ferdinand Mount, author of Cold Cream


“There’s a particular pleasure in the novel that creeps up on you… moving and affecting… there is a really really fine novelist here.”
Kamila Shamsie, Saturday Review, BBC Radio 4

 

 

Marriage Material isn’t simply an ingenious exercise in updating…. wryly comical and immensely appealing… Sanghera’s forte is wry comedy tinged with pathos. Affectionate irony plays over his scenes of Sikh ­family life, social ­etiquette and religious observances… humane…. a tone of shrewdly humorous tolerance…. warm, keenly observant and immensely appealing.”
The Sunday Times


“Playful wit infuses the novel… Entertaining…important… absolutely fascinating.”
The Independent


“Having grown up in a corner shop in the West Midlands, I hoped that Sathnam Sanghera’s Marriage Material would resonate. I was expecting acerbic wit, unsentimental tenderness and a Black Country setting – and it lived up to my stupid expectations. I really wanted to like it and I loved it – which never seems to happen. I usually damn things with high hopes. It was a lot of things I expected – funny and tender and scathing – but it’s insanely gripping as well. So much of the newsagent detailing was completely spot on – there was plenty of my Dad in the character of Tanvir, plenty of all of my family in there really. A great achievement.”
Catherine O’Flynn, author of Costa-Prizewinning What Was Lost 


Marriage Material returns to rich and little explored multicultural terrain, in a novel that ingeniously ‘shoplifts’ (his word) characters and elements of plot from Arnold Bennett’s The Old Wives’ Tale… dangerous material is handled with a darkly comic lightness of touch, and an impassively detached ironic tone… This book is so well researched you hardly notice the work that’s gone into it.”
Margaret Drabble in The Spectator 


“With street-savvy humour, Sanghera takes us into the world of Bains Stores… This is gorgeous, grand-scale storytelling.”
Sainbury’s Magazine


“…an uncommonly accomplished debut novel…”
Metro


“Sathnam Sanghera’s witty first novel chronicles three generations of a Punjabi Indian family in England. After his father dies, Arjan Banga, a graphic designer in London, returns to the dreary West Midlands to help run the family convenience store. The move causes tension with his white fiancée, Freya, whom his mother regards with passive-aggressive disapproval…  Arjan’s woes are comic, but the novel’s depth is evident as it sheds light on the economic and political struggles of immigrants.
The New York Times


“Very good.. acute observation.. thoroughly imagined.. mastery of naturalistic detail.. generosity of tone.. reassuring and consoling.. acute about human frailty… It is often funny and its great merit is its humanity.”
The Scotsman


“Mr Sanghera… tells a larger story about the big political and economic struggles of the past half-century. He examines changing attitudes to immigration, the rise of big-box stores and the hollowing out of Britain’s industrial centres… Mr Sanghera, who grew up in Wolverhampton himself, does a good job of capturing the complications of progress. He leaves it to readers to decide whether these changes have been for the better or worse. There are few more profound ways for a South Asian migrant to wipe out his individuality than by becoming yet another shopkeeper, notes the youngest member of the corner-shop clan. This fine novel steps behind the counter and shows that this need not be the case.”
The Economist


“This well-observed debut novel charts the stories of three generations of a Sikh Punjabi family in the Black Country… elegantly sets their tales of love and independence versus honour and duty against the backdrop of key social and political moments… unlike other works that purport to lay claim to an authentic South Asian narrative, Marriage Material rises far above cliché, not least thanks to its sharp prose and at times laugh-out-loud humour, which peppers the text even in the darker scenes… Acerbic yet affectionate, Marriage Material triumphs…”
The Times


“Fascinating, tongue-in-cheek…  gripping…  a touching, funny story.”
The Irish Examiner


“Jews and Sikhs. What’s the difference? Not much. Wonderful novel.”
Linda Grant


 “Loved it unconditionally. Insightful, educational, hilarious & wise. Thoroughly brilliant.”
Chris Cleave


“Sanghera’s impressive first novel is filled with incidents… in which moral confusions, personal insecurities and impossible situations jostle furiously with one another until they give way to bathetic humour…. much poignancy … Sanghera’s choice of Bennett as a model is in itself clever and amusing…  Kamaljit and Surinder’s story thickens the plot effectively, creates genuine suspense… and also allows Sanghera to build a fascinatingly detailed portrait of immigration and integration during the 60s and 70s… He blends the historical with the personal extremely well… he is adept at wiggling out humour without sacrificing seriousness.”
The Guardian


“A smart, funny tale of immigrant life in the UK… Sanghera’s story captures a time of extraordinary changes… As the novel progresses, the stories collide and there are startling revelations, humour and mystery. It is smartly crafted, weaving in droll observations about immigrant life and the defensiveness of south Asians living away from home, while also providing a thoughtful commentary on the casual racism of Britain, the tedium of always being out of place and the complexities of belonging in an increasingly heterogeneous world.”
The Financial Times


“Old fashioned in all the best senses… very readable, full of sympathetic characters you like, every page gave me some kind of small pleasure… one of the things I loved about it is the gentle satirical edge, but deeper than the satire is the affection…”
Kevin Jackson, Saturday Review, BBC Radio 4


“I loved the detail of the running of the corner shop… just brilliant…”
Antonia Quirke, Saturday Review, BBC Radio 4


“While author Sathnam Sanghera gleefully admits to have “shoplifted characters and elements of plot” from Arnold Bennett’s The Old Wives’ Tale, Marriage Material departs from it quite significantly. The protagonist of Sanghera’s novel, Arjan Banga, has tried to cultivate a life in London quite different from the life of his father, a shopkeeper who “could have been anyone. Or no one.” He is nothing like the protagonist of Bennett’s book, Cyril, a character who is never quite a character. …While the stories of Arjan’s mother and aunt are somewhat similar to those of Constance and Sophia in The Old Wives’ Tale, the character of Surinder is much more radical and witty than her counterpart, though both share an amazing capacity to love dogs, literal and metaphorical… marvelously funny”
Sangeeta Ray, Los Angeles Review of Books